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What is Brachytherapy?

Chicago Prostate Cancer Center features one of the most effective prostate cancer treatments: LDR Brachytherapy. Over the past twenty years, technology has resulted in dramatic advancements in the precision of prostate brachytherapy. As a result, it has become very popular as a treatment option for patients diagnosed with stage prostate cancer. But what exactly is brachytherapy?  

The term “brachytherapy” comes from the words for short distance (brachy) and treatment (therapy). Brachytherapy, also referred to as seed implantation, uses ionizing radiation to destroy cancer cells. It utilizes radioactive material that is placed either directly into a malignant tumor or very close to it, thus the term brachytherapy.

Prior to the brachytherapy procedure, a volume study is necessary.  A volume study is an ultrasound allow to determine the exact shape and size of the prostate gland. Using the ultrasound images, the physician and dosimetrist will map out how many radiation seeds will be used and the precise placement of them within the prostate. This is similar to having a suit made; the tailor must first measure the chest, arm length, and inseam so that he can make the material to custom-fit the customer’s body. Outlining the area of the prostate gland where the cancer was identified on biopsy also assists physicians in treatment planning.

The day of the seed implant, patients typically arrive one hour before the procedure. A clear liquid diet and laxative is required the day before and nothing should be eaten by mouth after midnight on the day of the procedure. These recommendations minimize gas and allow better visualization of the prostate gland.

In the operating room, the placement of needles that contain the radioactive seeds is guided by the use of ultrasound.

How does it work? Radiation kills the tumor by destroying the DNA within the cancer cell. When the cancer cell attempts to divide and reproduce itself, it is unable to do so because the DNA is no longer intact and as a result, the prostate cancer dies. Since the sources are placed directly into the prostate, rather than radiation delivered from the outside,  side effects are minimized.

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